HONAKER, Va. – Rising sophomore Sage Webb could be doing just about anything with his summer vacation.
He’s playing football for his beloved Blue Tornado.
"We are just trying to get ready for the season," said Webb, a talented receiver and defensive back at Richlands. "I love it. I think all these guys love it. We are always hungry for success. We all want to be good this season."
They’re not the only ones.
"These kids love it," said Chilhowie head coach Jeff Robinson, whose Warriors have played in the Class 1 state championship game two years in a row. "They will sacrifice a whole day to come out here and do this. It helps in a lot of ways."
In just over three weeks, high school football practice will officially begin in Virginia, but most area teams, including Honaker, Richlands and Chilhowie have been busy on the gridiron, competing in 7 on 7 passing scrimmages, including Tuesday afternoon on the hot, steamy turf of Fuller Field at EMATS Stadium in Honaker.
"You have got to get used to it so that helps too," said Robinson, whose Warriors lost 15 senior starters to graduation, including nine first or second team all-state performers. "These guys have really committed all summer.
"We have about 90 percent of our team at every workout this year so the kids have made sacrifices, parents have made sacrifices with vacations to make sure kids are where they need to be. I have been really proud of that."
Honaker has been hosting 7 on 7s every Tuesday this summer - minus the VHSL-mandated dead period - with one more to go next week before slowing in down in preparation for the official start of practice on Aug. 1.
"You are trying to get your quarterbacks and your receivers into a rhythm. It gives you an opportunity to take a look at young kids that play in different positions to see how they react to the ball," said 38-year Honaker coaching veteran Doug Hubbard, who returns several offensive producers from last year’s 5-6 squad, including quarterback Levi Miller, his all-state wide receiver/defensive back son, Chandler Hubbard, and promising receivers and tight ends Trajon Boyd, Jason Mullins and Levi Glymp. "You get a lot of mistakes of course so you get a lot of chances to correct a lot.
"What you are looking at is how your kids react to the ball, whether they can catch the ball. Then there is the knowledge of what we are doing. That is what you are looking at and then trying to get a little bit of rhythm with them and a little bit of competition in the summer.
"That is about it. You are not getting a running game look or a strong look at anything like that so you are just getting a look at kids and let them react and play - your receivers and defensive backs - and see if they can cover and get to the spots and trying to get a little ahead in that area of the game."
Don’t look for linemen or players in football gear outside of shoes and helmets in 7 on 7s. The focus is on quarterbacks, receivers and pass coverage.
"For us it is our offense. We don’t run 7 on 7 routes. You go watch people, they get in the huddle and hold up cards with 7 on 7 routes," said Richlands head coach Greg Mance, whose Blue Tornado have been participating in 7 on 7s since 2005.. This is our offense. This is what we call on Friday nights and we run them in 7 on 7s so we are practicing our offense
"The first day of practice our passing game is in. We practice it all summer in 7 on 7. We have just got to polish the running game up. For us, this is invaluable. We are getting a chance to come down and run our plays against different looks on defense, different coverages.
"We have got to adjust routes and with young receivers it takes time to do that because you don’t see a lot of backyard football anymore. We have got to do more of it in order to advance their development."
Webb, who has traveled to numerous colleges and football camps this summer in working toward his dream of playing at the next level, certainly gets plenty from the experience.
"They help me with my footwork, just getting better as a receiver," said Webb, whose Blues have already competed in six 7 on 7s this summer, with one to go next week. "I have just got to be getting ready for defenses I will be seeing during the season."
For teams like Chilhowie, which lost so much from a pair of teams that won a combined 25 games over the last two years, 7 on 7s give players an opportunity to prepare for bigger roles in the season ahead.
We lost 15 seniors and they were all starters, they are all really good players, but we feel like we are going to put a pretty good product on the field," said Robinson, who does return second team all-state punter Daniel Hutton, along with 2017 all-stater Jarred Johnson and Logan Adams, who is the leader for the all-important quarterback position. "We are going to still be a junior-senior team and that is how you win in high school football is juniors and seniors. I don’t know what other people expect from us, but I think we are going to be OK…
"I think we may have a faster team than we did last year. Time will tell, there are going to be some growing pains because a lot of these guys were role players on the last two teams. Now it is their time to see what they can do. I am looking forward to seeing it."
Richlands is using the 7 on 7s to find a heir apparent to Race Moir at quarterback. The primary candidates are senior Cade Simmons and promising sophomore Gavin Cox, along with Colton Medley, although he is already a two-way player on both sides of the ball.
"I think it will help a lot just playing these big teams," said Webb, whose Blues were 5-0 in a recent 7 on 7 scrimmage against larger schools in Lynchburg and placed second at Emory & Henry College. "There is a lot of team chemistry where we are beating these big teams so I think it is really bringing us together to get us ready for these other teams we are going to see in the season, a lot of live action."
Just don’t take the results from 7 on 7s very seriously. They certainly are no barometer for what lies ahead.
"I tell them ‘Guys, don’t read too much into these 7 on 7s, no matter whether you do really well or do you do really bad, it is all about being out here running with people competing and just working on some coverages,’" Robinson said. "You put four (more) players on each side of the ball and it makes all the difference in the world. Don’t read too much to rather it is good or bad."
No area coach has been at it as long as Hubbard, who is entering his 38th season at Honaker with no plans to slow down.
"I still get just as frustrated as ever. I get excited when they mess up, don’t know what they are doing, I still feel about the same way," Hubbard said. "I haven’t changed much. If I change much in that aspect, I will just go ahead and get on out. I still have got a lot fire and excitement about doing what I am doing."
A good time was had by all in Honaker on Tuesday. The countdown to football season continues.
"It is good, the kids get to compete. We got to play two teams today so we kind of split our kids up a little bit. We will switch the quarterbacks from team to team and get them so they get to work with all the kids and work on our timing," said Mance, who passed the 200-win plateau in his Richlands career last season. "The defensive backs work on their coverages and getting to their areas and reading the quarterbacks, running the routes, setting them down, getting in open areas.
"It is great. It is getting kids out and competing. We lifted and ran this morning and came down. We will hopefully get another hour or two of this and it will be a good day for us."
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